Tag Archives: flesh vs spirit

Having Fun Yet?

The Christian life is a life of victory, joy, peace, and rest.  That’s what yours is, right?  All Christians walk in power and freedom, right?

Why not?

Well, there is this thing in us called the flesh.  I have written about the flesh before, but it just seems to keep coming around.  The flesh is the thinking and feeling system we have built through our lives.  I won’t explain it much more than that here, except to say that you are very familiar with your flesh.  It is what you have called “you” all your life.

When you have said things like, “I want that,” or “I don’t like that,” you are speaking out of your flesh.  Some people love the color orange, or hot peppers, or the smell of coffee, or the thrill of bungee jumping.  Why?  Because something in those things connects positively with their flesh.  That isn’t bad or good; it is just the way things work.  Certain things attract certain people, almost always because of experiences of the past and the thinking that has adapted in the heart of the individual. 

Realtors say that the smell of just-baked bread helps to sell houses.  People with red sports cars believe they get more tickets because officers assume red sports cars are always speeding.  Prejudices, temptations, assumptions—these are all flesh perspectives.  The flesh dwells in your sub-conscious and you don’t have to think to access it. 

In fact, it is just that unthinking influence that gets us into trouble.  When we buy the donuts or the clothes we don’t need because they look so good, we don’t stop to think it through.  We just buy.  When we eat too much or cuss or lust or say something cruel—we probably don’t think about the consequences.  We just do it. 

Our flesh wants certain things, hates certain things, fears certain things.  For most of us, the flesh finds it very hard to trust anything we can’t control.  And we have learned that things that seem too good to be true usually are not true.  People lie to us and we learn not to trust.  We try things and fail and we learn not to trust.  Trust is a big issue with the flesh.

So along comes Jesus.  He says that He will give us rest.  We don’t have to do anything except come to Him.  He will give it to us.  The flesh finds that very hard to believe.  Jesus tells us our sins are forgiven.  Hard to believe.  Jesus tells us our future is certain in His hands.  Hard to believe.  Jesus tells us that we don’t have to worry about anything.  Hard to believe.  Jesus tells us to come to Him and all the things we need in this life and the next will be given to us as a gift.  Very hard to believe.  The flesh knows better.  At least it thinks it does.

This is why the Christian life is not about obedience or service.  We don’t have time to focus on those things.  The Christian life is about learning how to walk in faith with Jesus who loves us.  That’s plenty hard enough for us.  We have a lot of unlearning to do. 

But if we unlearn the things of the flesh.  If we believe that the way of Jesus is the best way, if we let go of the fear and the worry, then obedience falls into place and things like service and worship are easy.  And Jesus said they would be easy.  He didn’t come to make our lives harder. 

There is something new for us, the way of the Spirit.  We don’t have to do what our flesh says any longer.  Yes, it is easiest to follow the flesh.  Yes, it is familiar.  But it is not good for us.  The flesh is what broke us.  The flesh cannot succeed.  So, if we look to Jesus, we will find the mind/thinking of Christ building in us.  More and more we can walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. 

 

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. Galatians 5:16-17

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Believers and Sin

However, this does not mean that the flesh system is altogether gone in the life of the new believer (nor even the old believer).  Because the flesh is a system of habits and conditioned responses, the believer may choose to live his remaining days and conduct his relationships out of the flesh.  It is what has been normal for so long.  The reactions of the flesh are deeply ingrained in his thinking.  Thus, a believer may live “according to the flesh,” as Paul says, and may use sinful actions to attempt to satisfy his needs.  He may know in his heart that the Lord is the only One who has ever met his needs, but his old habits are hard to break and often come first in his thinking.  The difference in his new life is that he has a choice.  The relationship he has with Jesus has filled him with the Spirit and he is able to choose to live “according to the Spirit.”  The admonitions of Scripture against sin have the purpose of exposing the dangers of certain actions and attitudes and the desire to protect believers and those around them from that danger. 

What it does mean is that the believer, although still quite capable of sin and probably often participating in it in some form, is no longer defined by it.  Whereas the believer was once stuck with his flesh as the only system for coping with life, he now has the life of Jesus Christ within and the Spirit to enable him not to sin.  He has become a new creature.  So Paul says to the Corinthians that they “were” defined by their sins and now they are defined by their relationship with Jesus. (1 Cor 6:11)

Thus, a person could still exhibit narcissistic characteristics because that is his deeply ingrained flesh pattern, but he is no longer a narcissist.  He has been set free from the definition of that sin (and all others).

Here’s an example: I have a good friend who became a believer while still an alcoholic.  He says that he was a “saved drunk.”  For several years after his repentance and conversion, he struggled with his addiction to alcohol.  Eventually he came to understand that he no longer needed what he thought alcohol gave him.  He found that Jesus provided what he was looking for.  He stopped drinking with no side-effects and believes that God gave him a miracle.  He finally understood that, in Christ, he was no longer a drunk.  So he began to live out of who he really was, instead of who he had always been. 

That’s the victory over the flesh!

So, should believers repent?  That’s tomorrow…

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Filed under Freedom, grace, heart, Legalism, Narcissism

Repentance

Yesterday, I responded to a question concerning whether a narcissist could be saved.  Within that question was another on whether the narcissist was capable of repenting.  Today I want to take a stab at the definition of repentance.

I would establish two axioms.  It may be that not all believers would agree with me on these, but I believe them to be true and they move me to understand more about sin and repentance.  Here they are:

  1. God hates sin because sin hurts His people and He loves us.
  2. Believers can commit any sin, if they seek to live out of their flesh rather than the Spirit.

Much is made of the Greek meaning of words.  The word, metanoia, is usually the word we see translated as “repentance.”  It means simply, “to change the mind.”  In other words, to think differently.  But to think differently about what?

As we grew up, we created a coping system for our lives.  We learned how to deal with people, how to look at ourselves, and what limits to place on our dreams.  We learned how to deal with life.  Our system may not have worked very well, but it worked well enough to get us through difficulties.  Addictions, habits, attitudes, expectations—these grew out of the system as we created it.  The Scripture calls this system the “flesh.”  It stands against the Spirit, according to Paul in Galatians.  The flesh, because it is unwilling to trust the assessment of the Lord, often embraces sin as a method of getting what it needs.  For example, a person might desire some attention in order to feel good about himself.  He tries some things but doesn’t get what he wants.  When he lies, however, he is able to move attention toward himself.  The need to feel good about himself leads him to crave attention and lying becomes simply one of the ways to meet his need.  This is the flesh at work.

The error that is often made is to think that repentance is thinking differently about particular sins.  When a child lies, the parents will try to move him to repent, to acknowledge the sin and renounce it.  If he says that he is sorry for lying and will try not to do it again, the parents are satisfied.  But the child may only have learned that lying doesn’t work or, worse, that he hasn’t been lying well enough.  He may think differently about that particular sin, but his core thinking hasn’t changed at all.  Next time he craves attention, he may hit someone or break something or use a bad word.  Too often people learn either to sin more discreetly or to exchange one sin for another.  To call this repentance is in error.

Repentance happens when a person looks at his or her life and realizes that the flesh system isn’t working.  To repent is to look outside oneself for life, to seek the life God provides.  The one who repents reaches out to God because God offers something more than he could ever provide for himself.  The flesh system is seen as insufficient and the love of God is accepted.

Someone asks whether repentance is necessary for salvation.  Of course it is.  Why else would anyone look to the Lord for new life?  But repentance is not a decision to no longer sin, nor is it merely regret for former sins.  Repentance is a realization that life isn’t working as is and a genuine desire for something different.  Repentance doesn’t save.  Jesus saves.  But repentance allows us to look outside ourselves to see Jesus.

More tomorrow…

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Narcissism, Relationship